Dr. Patricia D. Hawkins

Dr. Patricia D. Hawkins Pioneers Portrait

Dr. Patricia Hawkins arrived in Washington in 1962. 
Photo © Patsy Lynch

"I’ve been a maverick from the very first.  I come by it honestly.”

“Everybody was dying.  You just couldn’t get away from it.  One week I went to ten funerals.  That was the worst.  It was everybody.  It was staff.  And staff were so brave, because in those days people did not die easily.  My clients died of dementia.  They died blind.  They died paralyzed.  They died in terrible pain from muscle cramps, neuropathy, it was just a horrible time.  There were no easy deaths ... The whole community was losing people.  There didn’t seem to be any end in sight.”

“[At the Clinic] There was an incredible sense of shared purpose, a sense of being one big family.  You never felt that anything you wanted to do was out of line or too far to reach.  The philosophy was very clearly ‘If people need it, then we’ll figure out a way to deliver it.  We’ll figure out a way to fund it.  And that’s what we did.’ “

Dr. Pat Hawkins’ story is an incredible journey through the highs and lows of our community’s history.  It is a tale of an unrelenting commitment to social justice that has carried her from civil rights and the peace movement of the 1960s through the challenges of being a lesbian when it wasn’t cool to providing programs and solace through the worst days of the AIDS epidemic.  The story has brought her to a near iconic status in Washington, DC’s gay community.

There are chapters of high adventure dangling from the 12th floor of a building in Miami to talk a man out of suicide while a crowd chanted for him to jump and of working as the psychological warfare specialist for the anti-Castro Cuban resistance.  There are tales of evenings in DC’s basement Amber Room at Park and 14th NW in the early 1960s watching with the other lesbian patrons as the police got their payoff from the Mafia owners.  In a 1950s era of organized discrimination the Catholic student from Detroit tricked her sorority at the University of Michigan into admitting a Jewish member. 

In the antiwar peace movement of the 1960s she coordinated marshal training for the demonstrations in DC earning herself cracked ribs and lungs damaged by tear gas as she and others failed to levitate the Pentagon.  On the dangerous side are the homophobic vandalism her homes in Baltimore and southern Maryland have suffered, including a cross-burning on the lawn of a home in Baltimore: “We woke up the next morning and there had been a cross-burning on our lawn.  But we missed it.  I was so disappointed.  All we saw was the tatters.”

Along the way, Pat earned her PhD in Counseling Psychology from American University becoming Dr. Patricia D Hawkins and leading to careers in mental health services, social support services, and finally medical and psychosocial lifelines in the midst of the AIDS epidemic.  En route to her doctorate, Pat had studied in Europe with the eminent psychologist Dr. Jean Piaget and in the kibbutzim of Israel.  


In southern Maryland counties she helped create vocational rehabilitation programs, mental health centers, hotlines, and crashpads, while chairing a county parks and recreation committee and later serving on the DC board of Catholic Charities.

She hasn’t really lived in the District since the 1970s but has commuted regularly between her homes in St. Mary’s County and West Virginia to her work in DC.  She first began volunteering as a therapist at the Whitman-Walker Clinic’s 2335 18th St location in 1983 but wasn’t confirmed as a volunteer until completing training in 1984.  In 1987, Jim Graham, then the Executive Director, asked her to join the Whitman-Walker board with responsibility for the AIDS programs. 

Two years later she took a full time position on the staff directing the Clinic’s programs, raising funds, and serving, when needed, on the Ryan White Planning Council.  She worked with Children’s Hospital helping mothers with AIDS and their children and organizing a videotaping program to create messages from the mothers to their children.  As she notes, in the AIDS epidemic “Sadly I became one of the city’s experts on death and dying.”

Having contributed to developing the Clinic’s programs, Pat moved on to overseeing external affairs for Whitman-Walker.  By the time of her unscheduled exit from the Clinic’s staff, she had earned a secure place in the hearts of her colleagues, her clients, and the whole community.